Threat from AI?

Published July 16, 2023

IT has been just months since generative artificial intelligence exploded in the public imagination with the arrival and ‘mainstreaming’ of ChatGPT, Midjourney, DALL-E, DeepMind and the like, and already, humanity is in confrontation with these highly disruptive technologies. Far away in Tinseltown, the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, a major labour union that represents around 160,000 people associated with the American film and television industries, including A-list actors, is leading a high-profile strike against the erosion of their rights brought about by the rise of AI and new media. The protesters, who have triggered the first industry-wide shutdown in Hollywood in 63 years, are seeking better pay and protections against the future use of AI in television and films. “Compensation has been severely eroded by the rise of the streaming ecosystem. Furthermore, artificial intelligence poses an existential threat to creative professions,” SAG-AFTRA said in a statement after negotiations with major Hollywood studios fell through.

Among other things, the union wants performers protected against their physical likenesses being used as “digital doubles” in commercials and other media. It is also seeking restrictions on the training of any AI programmes to emulate an actor based on their existing work. It has made it clear that AI should not be used to replicate an actor without seeking permission and paying the actor in question. That all of this is no longer just sci-fi fantasy but a real possibility is a testament to how rapidly AI has evolved in recent years. Just months ago, scientists and key leaders in the technology space petitioned to stop work on AI systems to allow humanity to catch up with the implications of its creations. Computers, even experts now seem to agree, have arrived at the cusp of overtaking their makers. What brave new world will we see them create? As anyone who has tinkered around with AI knows, the possibilities are daunting.

Published in Dawn, July 16th, 2023

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